The Dutch hot chocolate mystique
One taste and you're hooked - particularly when it is raining and the wind is howling outside.
Worshipped for centuries by the Aztecs, who considered it the highest form of currency, the cocoa bean was brought from Mexico to Spain in 1519 by Hernando Cortez. After Cortez tasted the 'cacahuatt' drink made for the last Aztec emperor Montezuma II, he knew the noble and the rich in Spain would pay a high price for the treasured bean.
Chilli and pepper used in the Central American liquid chocolate recipe would be substituted with cane sugar in Madrid.
The Spanish secretly enjoyed the drink for years but eventually, the word got out and chocolati's mystery and intrigue spread.
By the mid-1600s, the frothy chocolate drink had gained 'exclusive' popularity in France and although still frequented by the rich and mighty, by the 1700s, chocolate houses in England and Holland were as prominent as coffee houses or cafes. But still, for another century, only the very rich could afford to sip.
It is no coincidence that the then chocolate empires had colonies and slaves cultivating the cocoa plantations.
Van Houten, along with businessman Gerardus Johannes Droste, would become the most successful and famous Dutch chocolatiers and whose family names are associated with rich, warm, creamy Dutch hot chocolate for more than a century.
A chemist by training, van Houten also thought chocolati should be available to everyone, not just nobility and the rich. In 1828 he patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cacao beans, which would eventually enable confectioners to make chocolate candy by mixing cocoa butter with finely ground sugar.
The centre of the bean, known as the nib, contains 55 percent cocoa butter, which is a natural fat. Van Houten's machine - a hydraulic press - reduced the cocoa butter content by nearly half, which created a cake that could be pulverised into the fine powder known as cocoa.
Van Houten treated the powder with alkaline salts (potassium or sodium carbonates) so the powder would easily mix with water. Today, this process is known as "Dutching." The final product, known as Dutch chocolate, has a dark colour and a mild taste.
This process marked a major turning point in the French, English and Dutch cocoa empires (Belgium's contribution involved processing and mixing chocolate filled with creams, caramels, ganache and praline, while the Swiss added condensed milk and voila, milk chocolate) as well as revolutionising the production process and reducing costs.
The invention meant that overnight chocolate went from being a drink of the rich to a drink for everyone.
Van Houten's hydraulic press paved the way for visionaries such as American Milton Hershey, who created chocolate for the masses.
While van Houten continued refining the processing techniques his company imported beans and processed cocoa, much of, which were transported to and from the Amsterdam KSM Island by boat.
Johannes Droste, in the business since 1860, imported beans and processed cocoa in Haarlem opening his first chocolatier in the summer of 1863 where he served the 'drink of the gods', or a warm milky chocolate from cocoa, milk and sugar. Sometimes a little butter was added to compliment the bitter sweetness.
Droste also served the famous 'pastille', one of the most interesting, and enduring forms of chocolate ever invented. Created with a rounded top intended for the roof of the mouth, and a smooth flat bottom on which the tongue could gently press the chocolate upwards, the pastille fits, and melts, perfectly in the mouth.
According to Chris Lemmens from Droste, milk and white chocolate are famous the world over for creaminess but bitter chocolate is still a mystery to most.
"Either you like it or you don't and Droste prefers to focus on those who love that slightly metallic taste resonating on the tip of the tongue," he said, adding that the secret recipe is a blend of cocoa from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Java and Ecuador. Today, the Cote d'Ivoire is the world's biggest cocoa producer.
In the Netherlands, the love affair with real chocolate continues. To merit the name chocolate here no fats other than cocoa butter are allowed by law to be part of the end product.
The Netherlands is also the most important exporter of cocoa butter as it supplies about 150,000 tones annually, or more than 25 percent of the world market.
But the real test is the finished product. Most cafes here will serve warm chocolate milk when you order a hot chocolate. Connoisseurs will gladly tell you this isn't the real thing at all.
For many, wholesomeness, purity, and quality have become inextricably bound to the Droste name. A reputation due in part to its famous cocoa tin featuring a nurse carrying a bowl of hot cocoa, presumably to a child just in from the cold. She is still there more than a hundred years on ready to soothe any frosty fingers or broken hearts.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: The Netherlands, hot chocolate